On Heritage, History & the Confederate Flag

I’m Italian and I’m proud of it. My grandparents are first generation American-Italian and I got to spend 25 years on this earth with my great-grandmother who emigrated to the United States from a small Italian village around 1919. With a vibrant dedication to our Italian culture and heritage, our roots run deep.

We’ve cultivated and carried on Italian traditions and customs — most of which revolve around food, of course — and try to maintain our connections with our Italian family members and community ties.

Why do I tell you this? Because this is the prism through which I view the controversy over the Confederate flag. I can understand why many people revere and honor the Confederate flag because for people born and bred in the South, the flag is a symbol of their heritage. Just like my family cherishes our Italian roots, so do many who claim Southern heritage.

But there is an important difference. To many others, the Confederate flag symbolizes a time of violence, hatred and overt racism. It is a relic from a time of war between the states over, depending on your viewpoint, slavery or state’s rights. For many, it represents bloodshed and discrimination.

The question to me during this controversy is where does someone’s right to their past end and someone else’s right to freedom from a hateful symbol begin? I’m not smart enough to know the answer but I do know what I feel when I see the Confederate flag. I feel the same visceral reaction as I do when someone uses the “N” word. It upsets me. It makes me cringe. It makes me conjure feelings of people being diminished, injured or much, much worse. Of course, this is the view of someone not raised in the South and not steeped in Southern history. However, when an entire race of people feels threatened by the mere presence of a symbol, like a flag, clearly there is a problem.

I also believe this — we cannot wipe clean the history books and act as if the Confederate flag and what it stood for never existed. That would be pure folly. We must own up to what any flag or symbol is and what it means. True, it may mean vastly different things to different people but if it is used in the perpetuation of hatred of a particular race, then I believe it should go.

Likewise, if I see someone flying a Nazi flag, I have a pretty good idea of what they believe in. If I see someone wearing a shirt with a racial epithet on it, I have a pretty good idea of what they believe. If I see someone with a bumper sticker espousing a hateful viewpoint, I have a pretty good idea of what’s in their heart. That does not mean that everyone who flies a Confederate flag has hatred for blacks. But when someone uses that flag as a symbol for their ignorant, backward cause and murders 9 innocent people in a house of worship, then maybe that flag has officially been corrupted.

We cannot become consumed, however, with knee-jerk reactions to eliminate all potentially hateful symbols just because they might offend someone. Rather, I believe it’s our duty and right as Americans to have a discussion about those symbols and whether they have a purposeful place in our society. There are books that some would prefer we not have access to. I disagree with that. There are movies that some would prefer we not watch. I disagree with that. There is music that some would prefer we not hear. I disagree with that. I believe it is up to each of us to determine for ourselves and for our children what we can and cannot read, watch and listen to.

For me, the issue is a no-brainer. Honor and boast about your heritage be it Italian, German, Jewish, Native American, Black or Southern. Show pride in who you are and where you came from. But be respectful and understand that throughout history your ancestors may have subjugated others. Do you have to apologize for that? No. But respect the past and show some grace. If that means a flag that symbolized a painful and bloody time for an entire race of people is removed from certain aspects of our lives, that, to me, is a small price to pay.

(Photo credit: pixxiestails / Foter / CC BY-NC)

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